27TH MARCH 1918 AGE 19


Private Playle's father, also William Springfield Playle, who chose this inscription, is referencing very directly Henry Newbolt's famous poem Vitae Lampada [1897] [The Torch of Life], which was based on a passage from De Rerum Natura [On the Nature of Things] by the Roman poet and philosopher, Lucretius:

"Thus the sum of things is ever being renewed, and mortal creatures live dependent one upon another. Some species increase, others diminish, and in a short space the generations of living creatures are changed and, like runners, pass on the torch of life"
Book II line 75

In Newbolt's poem, at a crucial point in a school cricket match - "ten to make and a match to win" - the last batsman is inspired not by the thought of the glory that could be his but by: "his captain's hand on his shoulder" and the words: "Play up! play up! and play the game": play for your team and not for yourself. To Newbolt, it's this same spirit of selflessness that can rally a group of soldiers who find themselves in a desperate situation:

The Gatling's jammed and the colonel dead,
And the regiment blind with dust and smoke.
The river of death has brimmed his banks,
And England's far, and Honour a name,
But the voice of a schoolboy rallies the ranks,
"Play up! play up! and play the game!"

It's a spirit of selflessness, of responsibility to others, transferred from the cricket pitch to the field of battle. And writ large - transferred from the cricket pitch to life:

This they all with a joyful mind
Bear through life like a torch in flame,
And falling fling to the host behind -
"Play up! play up! and play the game!"

The poem is always thought to have epitomised the public school ideal of selfless service to the community. But Playle was not a public schoolboy. He was educated at Rotherham Grammar School, which shows that this ideal of 'playing' for others and not for yourself was not limited to the public schools
William Springfield Playle was the eldest son of William Springfield Playle Senior, a quantity surveyor from Eccleshall in Yorkshire, and his wife, Minnie Kate. He served with the 17th Battalion Royal Fusiliers. In March 1918 the battalion was involved in a fighting retreat in the face of the German offensive. Playle, who had been at the front since January 1918, was said to have been killed by a sniper whilst carrying a wounded comrade.